The Science of Running


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As a track runner, foot & leg strength is key. You need to have strong legs in order to perform at your best. Coaches runners countless exercises to strengthening your legs and feet. They ask us to run countless miles to build endurance and make us stronger. We do a variety of drills, from high knees and lunges to skips and box jumps. Our legs and feet are our most important assets, and we must take care of them and train them to best of our ability.

However, one method of training sort of puzzled me. One day in circuit training, my coach asked us to take off our shoes and socks. We were all sort of skeptical about it, but we complied. Then he told us the entire workout would be done barefoot. Personally I was a bit scared. We were in the sweltering heat, and I thought he was going to burn our feet on the track. Thankfully, we ended up completely our workout o the turf field inside the track. Afterwards, our coach told us that many coaches are now getting runners to workout barefoot. It is believed that barefoot training will strengthen the muscles in the feet and legs. In addition, It will change the amount of force that the foot strikes the ground. Now my question is this: Does barefoot training actually strengthen the feet and legs more than shoes, or does it make one more susceptible to injury?

According to an article by the NY Times, it that barefoot training does a bit of both. The NY Times spoke to Dr. Stuart Warren of Indiana University, Dr. Daniel Lieberman of Harvard University, and a few other organizations about this issue. Lieberman, who is a barefoot runner himself, says, "There are many people who are convinced that barefoot runners never get injured." However, according to the NY Time's research, some runners who got rid of their shoes for a more natural feel acquired new injuries that were induced by barefoot running. So does this mean that barefoot running will only cause injury? Not true. 

It all depends on the positioning of the foot. The Journal of Foot and Ankle Research made an interesting discovery. It found that putting young children in shoes changes their gait, which changes how the foot strikes the ground. Placing toddlers in shoes causes them to increase stride length and land on their heels. Dr. Lieberman made a similar discovery. In a study later published in Nature, children from inner city Kenyan schools ran differently than children who were mostly barefoot. Children who ran barefoot landed lighter and closer to the front of their feet, whereas those with shoes landed closer to the heel and heavier. Although the evidence suggest that barefoot running is better, there are a few problems. The main issue is that the body doesn't changed running style based on footwear. Because of this, many new barefoot runners still run with their heel striking the ground, causing injuries such as stress fractures. 

While there is evidence supporting both claims, as doctoral candidate Allison Gruber states, " Evidence is not concrete for or against barefoot or shod running." as for me, while running barefoot was a unique and enjoyable experience, I am going to keep my feet shod and keep my feet protected. 

Stay safe everyone. 

And remember: Its never too hot. Its never too cold. Whether you feel good or not, lace up your shoes (or not) and go run.

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2 Comments

As an XC runner in high school I always wondered about barefoot running and how it was supposedly better for you. We had one barefoot runner on the team and he actually got numerous amount of knee injuries. Although, maybe his striking point had something to do with it, as he would always say he would strike in the middle of his foot rather than the front of his foot like the Kenyans do. I wonder if that really makes that much of a difference tho?

This is something i never fully understood either. In HS I ran cross country for a few years and whenever we did our warm up and our cool down we would do it barefoot. My XC team was pretty good (team.... not me) as we made it to states and did well every year so my coach knew what he was talking about. He never advocated for running barefoot when we ran in the park, but occasionally a few people would run barefoot during our track workouts. What i found strange is that they ran barefoot due to some injury they already had, and somehow shoes were making it worse. Personally I never ran my workouts barefoot but i loved how it felt on our cool downs after a long workout with shoes on. I wonder if running barefoot was supposed to teach us better form for when we had shoes on?

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